Ralph Frank Abercromby was born in Skene, Aberdeenshire, Scotland, on the 27th August 1893, the youngest son of Douglas Charles and Helen Louisa Hodge Abercromby (née Murray). In 1915, the family home was at ‘Kinbroon House‘, Aberdeen, Aberdeenshire, Scotland. He had one brother and two sisters, and his cousin was Sir George Abercromby, Baronet, of Forglau House, Aberdeen.
On 28th January 1913, Ralph Abercromby arrived in New York in the United States of America on board the North German Lloyd steamer
Kronprinzessin Cecilie out of Southampton, Hampshire, and from there, he travelled to Cincinnati, Ohio, where he took up a position as a clerk working for a local railroad company. In the spring of 1915, however, because of the war raging in Europe he decided to return home to enlist in the armed forces and as a consequence, booked second cabin passage on the
Lusitania sailing which was due to leave New York on 1st May 1915.
Leaving Cincinnati during April, he boarded the liner at the Cunard Berth at Pier 54 in New York harbour on the morning of the 1st May and had his last view of his adopted country just after mid-day as the vessel began her delayed sailing into the North River and out into the Atlantic Ocean. The delay was caused because the liner had to embark passengers, some crew, and cargo from the Anchor Lines vessel the S.S.
Cameronia, which the British Admiralty had requisitioned for war service as a troop ship at the end of April.
Then, just six days later, Ralph Abercromby was dead, killed after the vessel was torpedoed on the afternoon of 7th May, by the German submarine
U-20, twelve miles off the coast of southern Ireland and only hours away from her Liverpool destination. He was aged 21 years.
His body was recovered from the sea shortly after the sinking, however and having been landed at Queenstown, it was taken to the temporary mortuary beside the Cunard offices at Lynch’s Quay and given the reference number 23. It was soon identified, however, and was buried on 10th May 1915 in The Old Church Cemetery, just outside the town, in Mass Grave A, 1st Row, Lower Tier. It was on this date that most of the victims of the sinking were buried after a long funeral procession which began at the Cunard offices.
However, soon afterwards, his brother, Mr. K. Abercromby, 6. Purcell Mansions, Queens Club Gardens, London, and a sister arrived at Queenstown, to claim his body. As a result, it was disinterred from the mass grave there and forwarded to London. It is not known whether or not it was buried in London or sent on from there to Aberdeen. Property taken from the body, which probably helped to establish its identity, was also handed over to his brother at Queenstown.
On Sunday 16th May 1915, The Reverend Charles Giles paid tribute to Ralph Abercromby in his sermon at his Parish Church at Forglen, when he said: -
I cannot bring this service to a close without making reference to a calamity which through the relentless cruelty and barbaric savagery of an unscrupulous foe, has cast a gloom over this quiet rural parish. Through the loss of the Lusitania, one of our mansion houses, the members of which we have all had good cause to honour and respect, has been cast into mourning through the untimely death of one of its members. Mr. Ralph Frank Abercromby, who had gone to the United States in the heyday of his youth and promise to fill an important appointment, was as a true patriot returning from the land of his adoption in response to the urgent call of his mother country in this her hour of need; but unfortunately, he was one of the many who went under in the disaster. .....
It was not my good fortune to know the young gentleman whose loss we, this day, deplore, but those that did have, assured me that they, knowing his brave, unselfish and self sacrificing disposition would have expected nothing else. Instead of selfishly continuing to reap the fruits of a well-merited and lucrative situation beyond the sea, he willingly abandoned it with the prospect of entering the trenches to do his bit for his country's freedom and honour.
Ralph Abercromby’s name is inscribed on Forglen’s war memorial which was unveiled by his cousin, Sir George Abercromby, in June 1921. It is also inscribed on a memorial at Crieff Parish Church, Crieff, Perthshire, which remembers the past pupils of Ardvreck School who lost their lives in the First World War.
Ralph’s father, Charles Douglas Abercromby died at his residence at ‘Kinbroon House, on the 15th June 1915, just over five weeks after the loss of his son.
1901 Census of Scotland, 1911 Census of England & Wales, Cunard Records, New York Passenger Lists 1820 - 1957, Aberdeen Daily Journal, Evening Express, New York Times, Deaths at Sea 1871 – 1968, PRO BT 100/345, UniLiv D92/2/537, Graham Maddocks, Geoff Whitfield, Michael Poirier, Jim Kalafus, Cliff Barry, Paul Latimer, Norman Gray.
Copyright © Peter Kelly